SEOAL football preview: If anybody unseats Chiefs atop SEOAL, it will likely be Jackson
The Logan Chieftains came from behind to defeat Jackson 28-21 in thrilling fashion in what turned out to be the decisive game of the 2013 Southeastern Ohio Athletic League football championship race.
Despite the championship returning to Logan, it’s the Jackson Ironmen who appear to have the inside track to the 2014 championship. Jackson returns 21 of its 22 starters.
New coaches in Gallipolis and Warren, along with a resurgent Portsmouth program, will keep the championship race interesting.
Here is a look at the league, team by team:
In GALLIPOLIS, the hope is that the third time is the charm.
The Blue Devils have their third coach in three seasons. Josh Riffe takes over the head coaching job at Gallia Academy after having spent the last two seasons as the offensive coordinator at Meigs. He served in the same post at GAHS from 2009 through 2011, however, so he is no stranger to the program or most of the upperclassmen.
It looks like a rebuilding year on the river. The Blue Devil roster features only 34 players — 10 of them being freshmen — but what the Blue Devils lack in depth, they will make up for in talent.
On both sides of the ball, the top 12-to-14 players are good enough to win a league championship. The big challenge for the Devils will be what happens when inevitable injuries happen. Can Coach Riffe and Co. find players to step up?
Wes Jarrell (a 6-foot-3, 220-pound junior) will lead GAHS as a running back on offense and as a linebacker on defense. The junior broke into the starting lineup as a freshman and has been one of the most talented players in the league over the last two seasons. His brother, Wade, led the Blue Devils to a second-round playoff game in 2012.
Kole Carter (6-0, 185, junior) will replace Wade Jarrell, a three-year starter at quarterback. Carter may not have the accuracy throwing the ball that Jarrell possessed, but has spent two years learning the position and is a punishing runner with the ball. Riffe plans to be pragmatic on offense, finding the right formations and play calls to fit his personnel.
Eli Miller (5-10, 185, senior), Blake Wilson (5-10, 170, senior), Eric Ward (5-10, 175, junior), and Payton Halley (5-8, 165, senior) will all play key roles as the skill players in the Gallipolis offense.
Ward, the team’s top returning rusher, gained 162 yards and scored a TD last season while Halley is the top returning receiver, having caught five passes for 27 yards.
Justin Reynolds (5-11, 210, junior) is the lone returning offensive starter. Anthony Sipple (6-2, 225, junior) and Brett Johnson (6-2, 230, junior) will join Reynolds on the offensive line.
Defensively, Jarrell will be the main threat from his linebacker post, and the defensive line should be a strength with Sipple returning at tackle. Brett Hively (6-0, 175, junior) will be a pass-rushing specialist at defensive end.
Miller and Ward join Jarrell at linebacker and Wilson and Sheets return as experienced players in the secondary.
Kicker Dylan Saunders (5-11, 220, senior) returns after converting 40 PATs and two field goals last season.
The JACKSON Ironmen won SEOAL titles in 2010 and 2011, but the last two seasons have ended in 5-5 and 6-4 overall records. Youth and injuries — along with extremely difficult schedules — have been big reasons for records below expectations in Jackson County.
But coach Andy Hall has reason to be excited heading in to 2014. The youth movement that climaxed with multiple freshmen and sophomores starting games in the second half of last season has resulted in unprecedented depth for the Ironmen.
Jackson isn’t all about depth, however. They are extremely talented. No more evidence is needed than Reagan Williams (6-3, 238, senior), a verbal commitment to Stanford. Williams is a three-year starter at tight end and linebacker and one of the best blockers in southeastern Ohio.
The backfield is crowded. Quarterback Hunter Sexton (5-11, 202, junior) returns after rushing for 613 yards and six touchdowns while passing for 665 yards and six scores last season. Gabe Griffiths (6-0, 192, senior) was the leading rusher last season with 627 yards and nine touchdowns although he missed the last few games of the Jackson season due to injury.
Jake Crabtree (6-3, 205, junior) rushed for 488 yards and six scores while Derek Rafferty (6-0, 195, senior) returns after missing half of last season due to a knee injury. Rafferty was the team’s top rusher before his injury and finished the year with 220 yards and three scores.
Finally, sophomore Johnny Farley (5-8, 151) gives Hall another backfield option after running for 294 yards and four scores as a freshman last season.
Williams will return at tight end. Joining him up front are tackles Tre Barger (6-0, 221, junior) and Elijah Woolum (6-4, 280, junior), guards Austin Fairchild (5-10, 235, senior) and Tyler Humphreys (5-11, 232, senior), and center Connor Staten (5-9, 218, senior). Fairchild and Staten are both two-year starters.
Defensively, Jackson will again feature a 50-front defense led by a strong linebacking corps that features Williams and Raymond Potter (6-1, 218, sophomore) on the inside and Cole Bachtel (6-1, 212, senior), Barger, and Crabtree all rotating at the two outside linebacker positions.
Billy Cooper (5-11, 198, sophomore) will be the noseguard with Fairchild the starter at tackle and Cossie Rawlins (5-9, 200, senior) and Humphreys rotating at defensive end.
The secondary will feature Sexton returning at strong safety and Collin Massie (5-11, 182, junior) at free safety. Rafferty and Reagin Conley (6-1, 186, junior) return at cornerback.
Defending champion LOGAN hopes to keep junior quarterback Lane Little (5-11, 155) healthy. Last season, the Chieftains lost the signal-caller in the second half of their season opener at Lancaster and were forced to reshuffle the deck and play multiple players out of position the rest of the year.
Second-year coach Billy Burke hopes to build on last season’s success despite the loss of SEOAL MVP Isaac Schmeltzer, quarterback Nick Kost, and four starting two-way linemen.
Little could have a breakout season as Logan looks to diversify their offense by going to the airwaves more often than a year ago.
A talented receiving unit is led by returning starters Isaiah Smith (6-4, 190, junior), Nathan Cocks (5-9, 160, senior), and Chance Cox (6-2, 155, senior). Cox returns to the team after missing last season. Tight end Kevin Fisher (6-9, 230, senior) is a dangerous red zone target.
Look for a committee of two to attempt to replace Schmeltzer’s backfield production. Bryce McBride (5-11, 190, junior) and Dean Jordan (5-11, 200, senior) will see the bulk of the snaps with Colton Stilwell (5-9, 200, junior) playing an H-back role in the backfield.
Keith Martin (6-1, 260, senior) is the lone returnee on the offensive line. Zach Buckley (6-0, 295, junior) will handle the snapping duties at center, while Kory Henthorne (6-6, 255, sophomore), Josh Rardain (6-0, 200, junior), and Adam Baker (5-10, 185, senior) will all rotate at guard.
Joining Martin at tackle will be Tommy Hayden (6-3, 210, junior). Brandon Skinner (6-0, 290, junior) adds depth at tackle.
Defensively, the Chiefs will re-tool up front, but Hayden returns after an outstanding sophomore campaign at defensive end. Martin also returns at tackle and will be joined in the rotation by Skinner, Will Esteph (6-1, 205, sophomore), and Buckley. D.J. Madison (6-2, 215, senior) will play the other end with Henthorne and Fisher adding depth.
Jordan and McBride are returning starters at inside linebacker and will be joined by Caleb Lewellen (6-2, 180, senior) at outside linebacker. Brendan Karns (5-9, 175, junior) will play the hybrid outside linebacker/strong safety role for the Purple & White.
The secondary is deep and features Cox and Joe Foltz (6-2, 175, senior) on the corners and Casey Phillips (6-2, 160, senior) at free safety. Smith will also see time at safety with Brandon Arnett (6-0, 160, senior) adding depth at corner.
Second-year PORTSMOUTH coach Jason Sparks looks to solidify a leaky defense in the Trojans’ last season as a member of the SEOAL. The Trojans allowed nearly 35 points per game last season, cancelling out the solid 25 per game averaged by the offense.
The offense, led by returning quarterback Sky Oliver (5-11, 180, senior), will be strong again. Oliver took over the starting quarterback job during the non-conference portion of the schedule and passed for 1435 yards and 16 touchdowns while completing over 60 percent of his passes. He was intercepted five times.
Alex Dickerson (6-3, 172, senior) is the top returning receiver, having caught 28 passes for 314 yards and three scores last season. Austin Hollins (5-11, 172, junior) caught 11 passes for 92 yards and a score as a sophomore last season.
Darion Robinson (6-2, 172, senior) returns after missing the second half of last season with a knee injury. Prior to his injury, he was averaging over 11 yards per carry, gaining 243 yards on 22 attempts with one touchdown. Oliver was second on the team last season with 289 yards and four touchdowns rushing.
Ryan Penn (6-1, 227, senior) and Hunter Gibson (6-4, 230, senior) are returning starters on the offensive line tasked with protecting Oliver. Michael Sturgill (6-0, 220, senior) also gained significant experience last fall.
On the defensive side of the ball, Vinnie Kennedy (6-1, 228, senior) returns on the Trojans’ three-man line. Zach Delotell (5-10, 222, junior), Sturgill, and Andrew Scott (5-10, 202, senior) all return at linebacker.
Oliver and Dickerson return in the secondary.
WARREN, like Gallipolis, welcomes a new head coach in Anthony Fish.
A Zane Trace and Marietta College alum, Fish was most recently an assistant coach at Alexander High School. He has made it clear that the new emphasis for Warrior football will be on defense.
Like Portsmouth, Warren struggled to stop opposing offenses last season, allowing 35 points per game. Fish’s defense is a 4-4 base with a hybrid outside linebacker with the ability to flex out on receivers in passing situations.
Brandon Pahl (6-2, 300, senior) will anchor the defensive line and will be joined by Mason Renner (5-11, 190, senior) and Kenny White (6-2, 200, sophomore).
David Rowland (6-2, 252, junior) is a returning starter at inside linebacker, where he is joined by Derrick Carey (5-9, 247, senior). Collin Welch (6-2, 210, senior) and Jake Davis (5-9, 175, junior) will flank them at outside linebacker.
Tanner Huck (5-10, 160, senior) returns at cornerback and Bryce Gandee (6-1, 150, sophomore) is the safety.
Andrew Henthorn (5-9, 165, senior) will be the signal-caller on offense. Carey will be a beefy fullback while Jared Isner (5-10, 173, senior) returns at running back. Isner was second on the team with 340 yards and three touchdowns last season. Andy Farnsworth (5-5, 154, senior) and Mark McDermott (5-8, 145, senior) will both see time at wingback.
Wigal and Tyler Liston (6-3, 192, senior) will play the receiver positions with Welch playing tight end.
Pahl will anchor the offensive line at tackle with White and Andy Fish (6-2, 210, junior) playing guard and Eric Hackathorn (5-11, 210, senior) playing center. Rowland will be the tackle opposite Pahl.
Look for Logan football historian Spencer Waugh’s previews of the Chiefs’ opponent every Thursday in The Logan Daily News. His website is www.loganfootball.com.